Cubs

Jake Arrieta’s dream season for Cubs continues with 20th win

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Jake Arrieta’s dream season for Cubs continues with 20th win

Jake Arrieta is on a completely different wavelength right now, locked into a dream season where it feels like there is no end in sight when he pitches like this.

The crowd of 36,270 waited to give Arrieta the standing ovation on Tuesday night at Wrigley Field, watching him put the finishing touches on a 4-0 complete-game victory over the Milwaukee Brewers and notch his 20th win.

And with that, the Cubs sliced their magic number down to three, positioning themselves as a team you do not want to face in the playoffs with Arrieta and Jon Lester at the top of the rotation.

The National League has taken notice, with Arrieta lowering his ERA to 1.88 and putting together 18 straight quality starts, an unbelievable run that included his no-hitter against the Los Angeles Dodgers.

“It just means that I’m putting my team in positions to win ballgames,” said Arrieta, who became the first Cub to reach 20 wins since Jon Lieber in 2001. “At the end of the day, that’s our goal – to try and pile on as many as we can. 

“Especially with where we’re at in the season, wins now at this time are more important than ever. Just happy about getting one for the team and keeping the momentum going.”

[MORE: Joe Maddon changes his tune on Cubs hosting concerts at Wrigley Field]

Arrieta smothered the last-place Brewers, allowing only three hits (two infield singles) and one walk and finishing with 11 strikeouts. His 0.86 ERA in 13 starts since the All-Star break is the lowest mark in major-league history. 

“It’s Bob Gibson-esque,” manager Joe Maddon said.

Maddon allowed Arrieta to throw 123 pitches and admitted he would have pulled his ace if the Cubs scored another insurance run. 

Arrieta struck out the first two batters he faced in the ninth inning – Logan Schafer and Adam Lind – and hit 94 mph with his second-to-last pitch. Khris Davis grounded out to end a game that only took two hours and 22 minutes, setting off the celebrations in Wrigleyville.  

“It’s a really tough decision to make in that moment,” Maddon said. “Honestly, if all this other stuff was not attached to it, I probably would have taken him out. With everything else attached to it, I thought it was appropriate to send him back out.

“You have to be in the dugout to really feel all of that. Believe me, I didn’t do it lightly or easily. I thought about it a lot.” Arrieta has now thrown 216 innings – or almost 60 more than he did last year in the big leagues. The Cubs are counting on him to shut down the Pittsburgh Pirates in the Oct. 7 wild-card game and lead this team on a long postseason run.

“It’s uncharted territory,” Maddon said. “It’s all this stuff that’s very prominent in the news right now regarding pitchers and innings pitched. The thing I’ve talked about with him (is) the fact that he’s not in his early 20s. The fact that he’s been pitching for awhile, I think, separates him.

“Combine that with his workout regimen, what kind of shape he’s in, it was kind of like honestly a non-stressful 120 pitches, if that makes sense. He wasn’t really in a lot of binds during the course of the game.” 

[NBC SHOP: Gear up, Cubs fans!]

The Cubs have won almost 75 percent of the games started by Arrieta this season (23-8). He has been a stabilizing influence on a young team with rookies up and down the lineup and too many question marks in the rotation. That sense of confidence might make him arguably the team’s MVP. 

The Cy Young race could come down to Arrieta or Dodgers ace Zack Greinke (18-3, 1.65 ERA), which seemed unthinkable when the Cubs made that Scott Feldman trade with the Baltimore Orioles in the middle of the 2013 season. 

Within the American League East, Arrieta had a reputation as someone who would unravel, letting the game get too fast and giving up the big inning.   

With a straight face, Arrieta said he didn’t feel all that sharp during his fourth complete game this season, but he’s willed himself into becoming a No. 1 starter.

“I felt off, but you have a handful of starts where it’s a toss-up,” Arrieta said. “You’re not sure which way it’s going to go, but your mindset plays a big deal in what the outcome looks like. So try to be mentally tough and grind it out.”

The Cubs allowed Arrieta to be himself and didn’t try the cookie-cutter approach that didn’t seem to work in Baltimore (20-25, 5.46 ERA). Coaches Chris Bosio, Mike Borzello and Lester Strode didn’t try to completely rewire Arrieta’s mechanics or stop his crossfire motion.

The Cubs also discovered a curious student who would embrace the analytics, apply scouting reports and think on his feet. That immersion into the mental side of the game means Arrieta might only be getting started with 20 wins.     

“I know the results have been good, but I don’t dwell on it for too long,” Arrieta said, “because tomorrow I’m getting ready for Pittsburgh. At the end of the day, the body of work has been good. It’s been what my team has needed. 

“I’m just fortunate to be in situations where the team’s scoring runs, I’m pitching well and the wins add up. It’s just kind of one of those things that doesn’t happen often. But you try and appreciate it when they do.”

'Cubs by the letter'

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USA TODAY

'Cubs by the letter'

Chris Kamka goes through his Cubs version of the alphabet in a poem inspired by Ogden Nash's "A Lineup for Yesterday" from 1949.

A: Arrieta

Respected and feared

He tossed two no-hitters

And grew a large beard

 

B is for Billy

A sweet-swingin' lefty

Was rather soft spoken

His hittin' was hefty

 

C is for Catcher

Mike Barrett’s right fist

Contreras, Girardi

And others I missed

 

D is for Dawson

His contract was blank

He won MVP

Then went to the bank

 

E is for Ernie

He bled Cubbie Blue

a beautiful day

So why not play two

 

F is for Fergie

He could do it all

Played hockey, played hoops

Pitched into the Hall

 

G was for Goat

But not anymore

That nonsense of "curses"

We choose to ignore

 

H is for Harry

His trademark black frames

He’d yell “Holy Cow”

And mispronounce names

 

I is for Ivy

Along Wrigley's Walls

Responsible for

Many vanishing balls

 

J is for Javy

He goes by El Mago

The flashiest glove

In all of Chicago

 

K is for Strikeout

And also for Kerry

His 20-K game

Was quite legendary

 

L is for Lester

He just needs one run

He'll make 30 starts

And then start Game 1

 

M is for Maddon

Had plenty of luck

Used hundreds of lineups

And tried not to suck

 

N is November

Of 2016

One hundred eight years

They wiped the slate clean

 

O is for Orie

And countless others

Who'd be superstars

If we had our druthers

 

P is for Pappas

Was one pitch away

The ump called ball four

Which ruined Milt's day

 

Q for Quintana

Colombian pride

Has hurled for both

The South and North side

 

R is for Ryno

Out at second base

He turned double plays

With Dunston & Grace

 

S is for Sammy

Into the abyss

Goes dozens of baseballs

Heart tap and a kiss

 

T is for Tony

You know who it is

Regarding first base

No one beats The Rizz

 

U for Uehara

With Cubs for one year

Not many to choose from

To fill the spot here

 

V is for Vegas

A wonderful place

Hometown of the player

Who covers third base

 

W for Wrigley

And Waveland too

Also the white flag

With a W in blue

 

X is for X

Roman Numeral Ten

Was worn by Ron Santo

Won’t be worn again

 

Y is for Yu

He had a tough year

In 2019

Yu'll be glad he's here

 

Z is for Zobrist

A solid teammate

You'll hear his wife sing

As he walks to the plate

 

Well, it sure looks like the Bryce Harper-to-the-Cubs ship has sailed once and for all

Well, it sure looks like the Bryce Harper-to-the-Cubs ship has sailed once and for all

It sure seems like we can pronounce the Cubs' courtship of Bryce Harper DOA. 

Though there was never much doubt left after manager Joe Maddon bluntly said it wasn't going to happen, news of the Cubs' disinterest in Harper continues to trickle in: 

Take every single tweet ever with a grain of salt -- because that's all any of them are worth -- but this seems mighty cut and dry. Granted, this is the same Jim Bowden that spent a not insignificant amount of time trying to convince White Sox fans that their team was the FRONTRUNNER for Bryce Harper, but Bowden is admittedly more well-connected than other baseball tweeters. 

Maybe it's just posturing, and if the reports of Manny Machado's $175 million contract are to be believed, it's almost definitely posturing. The more important thing to take away from this, however, is that Hot Stove season is insufferable and would everyone please just sign players so we don't have to Sherlock Homes 16 tweets a day.